Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shades of Africa

I never imagined I’d be saying, what I’m about to say.  And now it seems ridiculous that I haven't had an awareness of this all along.  I have come to love the colors of Togo!  I’ve spent a lot of my time here thinking how awful and dirty and ugly everything is from a purely aesthetic point of view; and more than once wondered what it would be like for people from my village to wander the streets of Paris or Madrid or walk through Loose Park in Kansas City.  Everything green and lush and orderly and clean.  I showed Leah’s mom photographs of Spain.  I could see that she was stunned by the beauty of it.  She’s barely ever been out of Tchekpo.

It seemed like suddenly I was seeing colors and landscapes that stopped me in my tracks with their unique beauty.  I don’t know if it’s because at this time of the year the colors are more enhanced or if it’s always been this pretty, and I just didn’t see it.  Where once everything seemed just dirty, dark red.  Everything.  Now I see a unique red and different variations of red; a lot of yellow and gold.  Colors that glow in the sunlight and at dusk.  Most people’s huts are made of clay bricks.  I used to find it dismal.  Now I walk down the path and think how beautifullyand naturally  they fit into the landscape. Every now and then someone has painted their house.  There’s a beautiful compound just down the road.  I admire the woman and her son who live there.  They just painted their house the prettiest blue.  It's almost violet and it blends in so beautifully with their clay courtyard and garden.   There is trash and waste scattered everywhere along the way.  But inside the compounds are clean, comfortable and pleasing to the eye.

I’ve caught glimpses of beauty here, but it isn’t easy to see past the squalor in Togo.  Pagne has always captured my attention. It’s always been a pleasant diversion for me. Pagne is the bright colored fabric that is ubiquitous in Africa.   I especially look forward to seeing the kaliedescope of colors and design on the men, women and children for special occasions and for Sunday church service.  If someone hasn’t done a photography book on African Pagne, they should.  There’s nothing more vibrant or more revealing than the world of pagne.  I revel in the variety, the colors, the personality of pagne and those who wear it.  There’s no black or beige or taupe here!  I often spend my time in church examining everyones pagne.   I wonder about the steps each person took to arrive at this creation, this pattern, and design.  Each one so uniquely different, and most are beautifully sewn.  The designs and colors are such an expression of the person, family and occasion.  No one fears going over the top.  No one snickers at the woman whose headscarf is defying gravity and sparkling at the same time.  They embrace this expression of individuality.  Nothing aesthetically defines Africa like pagne.

Doors have also captured my attention over my time here.  I’ve come to realize that doors to compounds are a sort of status symbol.  There are reed doors, and wooden doors, and metal doors.  The metal doors are handworked and their patina changes color over time.  They are made by artisans.  A metal door and a cement compound floor is upper class in Tchekpo.  Most people have reed or wooden doors and dirt floors.  None of the doors could keep even an inexperienced robber out.  Doors are for the most part, decorative and they feign an air of privacy.  A spry child could be hoisted over almost all the doors and/or compound walls. 

Their doors are just another expression of their identity,  as is the pagne they choose or the scarification they have on their body.  This is who I am! 

Colors.   I’m more than a little surprised that my sense of  the beauty that is here took so long to appreciate.  I do long for green fields of grass, big huge Midwest trees, and all the colors and seasons that come with that.  But for now I appreciate more fully the beauty that surrounds me here in Togo.

I often ride in the bush taxi from Tchekpo to Lome seeing the poverty and squalor; the ugliness of it.  The chaos of it.  The grayness of it.  The pollution of it.   But that is on the national road.  Togo can’t be judged by what you see from the bush taxi on the national road. Beyond that, behind the national road where the small to medium size villages are, and in remote areas the colors and shapes become uniquely African and vibrant in their own way.  They become beautiful.  I’m so glad I can see it.

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